Development of American Literary Criticisms by A. Walton Litz

A. Walton Litz begins his essay with the development of American literary criticism after the Second World War. The general trend of literary criticism since 1945, in America, has been from consensus to diversity, from the dominance of formalistic criticism to a bewildering variety of criticisms which seek to move beyond formalism. Reconciliation of contradiction is the main purpose of New Criticism as it attempts to harmonize the forces of Romantic and post romantic art.

For example in Metaphysical poetry which is highly influenced by New Criticism we notice that the feelings (heart) and the thought (mind) are being yoked together by violence. T. S. Eliot also believes that the value of work of art depends on its ability to balance complicated and often conflicting qualities.

The influence of Eliot, Richard and Empson was very powerful in 1941 and in the same year J.C Ransom wrote The New criticism. However it was R. P. Blackmur and his contemporaries like Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks who made New criticism so practical that it flourished soon. The decade after 1945 might be describing as the institutionalization of the New criticism. This tendency is clearly reflected in the influential essay written by Wimsatt and Beardsley, The Intentional and Affective Fallacy. Another institutionalizing impulse came from the publication of Theory of Literature by Rene Welleck and Austin Warren.

In the book they have talked about both extrinsic and intrinsic approaches to literature. The chapters on intrinsic approaches are more enthusiastic than the chapter an extrinsic approaches. Wellek and Warren claim that to find out the common element of all reading process one must rely up on the close study of work and its formal structure. And this was the very claim that leads them to criticize severely the extrinsic approaches. But it was Understanding Poetry by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren that popularized New criticism and even accelerated the movement towards rigidity. However the essay Understanding Poetry fell victim to its own success as it contributed to the decline of the method and values it promoted. By making two generations of student more attentive to the text itself Brooks and Warren focus the readers’ attention on the poem as an organic system, they programmatically excluded all consideration of historical, sociological and biographical contexts, learning the poem naked on the page. This view finally led New criticism towards rigidity and dogmatism. There were other factors which led to the decay of New Criticism even at the movement of its greatest influence and popularity. The growing popularity of literary biography during the late 1950s and early 1960 s caused the degradation of New criticism was a method best suited to the short poems not to narrative or dramas. That is why Understanding Fiction by Brooks and Warren get less popularity than their earlier works.

Now gradually the opposition against New Criticism began. Yvor Winters in Defense of Reason (1947) rejected the autonomy of art and argued that poetry must have a rational, paraphrasable statement that can be judged on moral grounds. Like Winters, Neo- Aristotelians also opposed New Criticism, whose major works came up in 1940s and early 1950s. The best of their work was Critics and Criticism Ancient and Modern edited by R. S Crane, Who was the leading figure in the movement. These Neo- Aristotelian critics were no more confined to poetry criticism only. They wanted to follow Aristotelian Parameters of action, plot and character, which are rejected by New Criticism. With the opposition towards New Criticism as it started degrading, there was no alterative criticism for New Criticism. The poet Randal Jarrell in Poetry and the Age (1993) has complained that he was living in an age of criticism where the main job of critic had not been clarified and criticism had become an uncontrollable activity. This shift of New criticism from its emergence to its rigidification had been shown clearly by two major publications in 1957: Literary Criticism; A short History by Wimsalt and Brooks; and Anatomy of Criticism by Northrop Frye. The most important departure that Northrop Frye marks from New Criticism was the publication of Anatomy of Criticism (1957). It’s emphasis on evaluation of work of art alone. Frye of course gives emphasis on evaluation but he, more than that gives emphasis on comparison of the work to other works. His emphasis is to study a work based on archetype or the recurrent patterns of experience or ideas, found in earlier work.

Now in 1960s literary criticism also lost its monolithic appearance and the critics became less suspicious of extra literary approaches and the critical landscape was marked by a number of attempts to align literary study with other disciplines. So in 1967, new historicism was sanctioned along with the publication of the collection of essays. Relation of literary study: Essay an Interdisciplinary Contributions under the editorship of James Thrope. The essays in this collection represent a new spectrum of interests: Literature and History, Literature and Myth (by Northrop Frye), Literature and Psychology, Literature and Sociology, Literature and Music and so on. Fredrick Crew a psychoanalyst displays an ironic and detached attitude towards all critical dogmas in The Pooh Perplex. However in the early 1960s, Crew adopted the language and technique of Freudian Criticism and Produced a Psychoanalytic study of Nathaniel Hawthorne The sins of the Fathers (1966). Another trend of the 1960 s was the increased attention giving to prose fiction. In The Rhetoric of Fiction, Wayne Booth tries to judge each kind of fiction by its own standards. His work began as a reaction against those formalist critics who insisted on taking novel as a poetic construct like Booth’s work, another major study of fiction that had a liberating impact was The Nature of Narrative by Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg.

American literature criticism since 1970 has been dominated by Hartman and his Yale colleagues Paul de Man, J.H Miller and Harold Bloom. These Yale critics do not belong to the same line of criticism. But they have something in common that they admire continental critic (esp. Jacques Derrida). Hence, Yale critics welcomed Derrida in American academies through his deconstructive modes of criticism slowly and gradually entered in America.In this way based on a Walton Litz’s sketches the American literary criticism which moves from consensus to diversity after the period of post war.